Notes from the field of public involvement

Wednesday, 10 August 2005

ICAS tendered for 5 year contract

The end of August marks the second year of the Independent Complaints Advocacy Service (ICAS), which was supposed to be run through the Patients Forums when CHCs were abolished, but never was. Now it probably never will be. This confirms the lack of coherence between the parts of the post-CHC “system”.

The Department of Health has advertised for expressions of interest to deliver ICAS for the coming five year period, starting in April 2006. Will the existing four providers covering England wish to continue? It’s difficult to know, as finding out about how ICAS is performing is not easy. There are few offices compared with the previous service offered by CHCs. The nearest ICAS office to this part of London is quite a trek away in a neighbouring borough. One doesn’t see the London ICAS telephone number advertised very prominently. Not a surprise, then, that local people don’t know who to talk to if they think they might have a complaint about NHS services.

The first year’s report (September 2004) showed ICAS providers had 49 offices serving as bases for the 103 advocates/caseworkers, 55 client support workers and 22.5 whole time equivalent management and administrative posts. ICAS is mainly a telephone help-line: 27,000 calls in year one. One would expect to see a considerable growth in that figure in year two. But what is really needed is a thorough assessment of what ICAS has achieved in its two years from the perspective of its users.

Activity data and process outputs are fine, but what really counts is what complainants feel they have got from using the service. Would they recommend that others use it? That’s the killer question for any complaints-related service. There was none of that sort of information in the first year’s report. For the service to have credibility a robust user survey must be undertaken and the results included as the major element in the report on the second year. And if there isn’t a report on ICAS’s second year? Well then one has to wonder what sort of service is really being sought by the Department of Health in its invitation to tender.

If anyone has used ICAS or if you work in the ICAS service and would like to comment on the experience here, please email us.

ICAS tender documentation can be obtained from icas@dh.gsi.gov.uk Closing date is 5 September 2005

Andrew Craig | Send feedback